Sunday, May 10, 2015


Not a Tree is Left Standing

John Murray, letter to his wife (October 5, 1814), in Samuel Smiles, A Publisher and his Friends. Memoir and Correspondence of the Late John Murray, with an Account of the Origin and Progress of the House, 1768-1843, 2nd ed. (London: John Murray, 1891), Vol. 1, pp. 253-255:
I got to Newstead about 11 o'clock yesterday and found the steward, my namesake, and the butler waiting for me. The first, who is good-looking and a respectable old man of about sixty-five years, showed me over the house and grounds, which occupied two hours, for I was anxious to examine everything. But never was I more disappointed, for my notions, I suppose, had been raised to the romantic. I had surmised the possibly easy restoration of this once famous abbey, the mere skeleton of which is now fast crumbling to ruin. Lord Byron's immediate predecessor stripped the whole place of all that was splendid and interesting; and you may judge of what he must have done to the mansion when I inform you that he converted the ground, which used to be covered with the finest trees, like a forest, into an absolute desert. Not a tree is left standing, and the wood thus shamefully cut down was sold in one day for £60,000. The hall of entrance has about eighteen large niches, which had been filled with statues, and the side walls covered with family portraits and armour. All these have been mercilessly torn down, as well as the magnificent fireplace, and sold. All the beautiful paintings which filled the galleries — valued at that day at £80,000 — have disappeared, and the whole place is crumbling into dust. No sum short of £100,000 would make the place habitable. Lord Byron's few apartments contain some modern upholstery, but serve only to show what ought to have been there. They are now digging round the cloisters for a traditionary cannon, and in their progress, about five days ago, they discovered a corpse in too decayed a state to admit of removal. I saw the drinking-skull and the marble mausoleum erected over Lord Byron's dog. I came away with my heart aching and full of melancholy reflections — producing a lowness of spirits which I did not get the better of until this morning, when the most enchanting scenery I have ever beheld has at length restored me. I am far more surprised that Lord Byron should ever have lived at Newstead, than that he should be inclined to part with it; for, as there is no possibility of his being able, by any reasonable amount of expense, to reinstate it, the place can present nothing but a perpetual memorial of the wickedness of his ancestors. There are three, or at most four, domestics at board wages. All that I was asked to taste was a piece of bread-and-butter. As my foot was on the step of the chaise, when about to enter it, I was informed that his lordship had ordered that I should take as much game as I liked. What makes the steward, Joe Murray, an interesting object to me, is that the old man has seen the abbey in all its vicissitudes of greatness and degradation. Once it was full of unbounded hospitality and splendour, and now it is simply miserable. If this man has feelings — of which, by the way, he betrays no symptom — he would possibly be miserable himself. He has seen three hundred of the first people in the county filling the gallery, and seen five hundred deer disporting themselves in the beautiful park, now covered with stunted offshoots of felled trees. Again I say it gave me the heartache to witness all this ruin, and I regret that my romantic picture has been destroyed by the reality.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


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